By Colin Johnson
Have you ever had the nagging feeling there is some unfinished business that, while not urgent, should nevertheless be completed . . . by you? “What is it?” you fret. Why don’t I keep a set of notes about these things? What was I doing when I last thought of it? Who is waiting to hear from me?” Then, you spot a business card in your junk drawer, see a piece of equipment in the garage, or notice your laptop sitting on the patio table in the thunderstorm, and that light bulb flashes over your head, “Oh, yeah! That’s it. I should take care of that.” Well, that is how it happens with me. Then you move on and within a day or two you have forgotten it again. Probably not the laptop, though.
Or maybe you know exactly what it is that is unfinished and you just don’t have the motive to attack it. You just keep allowing it to nag, nag, nag at your soul. Also happens to me.
Which is worse? Or should I ask, Which is better? That sounds more positive.
My most recent experience of this kind occurred when I accepted a nomination to return to PoP Council after a two-year hiatus. In 2019, I had just completed a period of five consecutive years, first as a one-year replacement in an at-large capacity and then two terms as Council Secretary. I was flattered to be recognized in our last election cycle, but had hoped that “the call” to return would be at least another year or two off. Moreover, I had spent the eight months following the end of my last term as a member of the Call Committee as well as the previous year as the Council’s representative to what was called the “Transition Team.” This team represented a relatively new step instituted by the Synod in the process of calling a new pastor. Its members would work with the interim pastor designated by the Synod to produce a document that had several functions. That is, we ASSUMED that these functions were clearly enumerated and would be followed in order. It was part congregational history, part site analysis, and part planning for the future. A pretty significant order. Interim Pastor Teri Hermsmeyer exhorted us that the Transition Team Report was our best shot for the congregation to redesign our organization, reposition our mission, re-whatever-we-wished-to-do in order to revitalize our congregation. We would certainly get the Synod’s attention.
PoP was clearly anxious to move forward. We had been told by the Synod representative who came to Logan and outlined the process that it could likely last at least the better part of a year to ?????? Consequently, the six of us appointed to the committee began to work on the report in late fall, toiling for more than six months through semi-monthly meetings. Ultimately, we produced a 102-page document consisting of roughly 20 pages of soul-searching analysis followed by several appendices of transcribed documentation. Many scraps of paper were involved! The report was presented to the Synod, along with a summary document, and to the PoP Council. Out of this, a Call document would be produced by the next committee. But nearly immediately all but three members of the committee left the area to take up the next chapters of their lives: Chair Eric Allen departed for graduate school and seminary, Debbie Waite to pursue retirement in Washington State with husband Phil. Pr. Teri completed her interim assignment in August and went home to Colorado, and Karon King cut her Utah ties to be closer to family in the Deep South. I continued on to the Call Committee as the designated representative from the Transition Team, a continuity process designated by the Synod.
What followed is history: the Call Committee began its work in early May 2019, a little more than a year after Pr. Scott announced his call, land the Lord sent us Pr. Emily Kuenker the following February 2020 and led us for two or three Sundays before . . . (cue ominous musical minor chord)
The Covid-19 Pandemic hit!
Of the Transition Team, only Karin deJonge-Kannan, Julie Latvakoski, and myself remained at PoP. So when I returned to Council last month, I was curious about the status of the Transition Team Report, upon which we had labored so long and hard. We knew—or assumed we knew—its various functions: 1) a document to inform the Synod of our “identity” and “personality” in order that they match us with appropriate candidates, 2) that the Synod would pass the document to pastoral candidates interested in our congregation in order to learn the same, 3) that the Call Committee would use the data to prepare its own document and to inform the questions it would use in candidate interviews, 4) that the new Council had incorporated its advice into its policy agenda, that the congregation would be acquainted generally with its contents because all members had participated in a standardized survey, assembled in small group focus meetings, and provided recollections of memorable events going back a quarter century or more, and 5) that the new pastor, Council, and congregation would move forward in pomp, majesty and harmonious accord with programs and practices proclaimed therein. Yes, we were certain of those things. Amen.
We made few hard copies of the report, but the document had been available in the Narthex and perhaps linked on-line to the Proclaimer.
What I discovered as I rejoined the Council indicated otherwise, and the little nagging voice in my head spoke the catchphrase so popular today: “We need closure on this.” I brought this up to Council members and learned that the document was largely unknown and was a dim memory among a few, including Pr. Emily. Apparently, sharing the document as a recruiting “tool” was not part of the process. In fact, it is now apparent that few of the items listed above came to pass. And it was truly nobody’s fault.
As one who has always avoided—or attempted to—reinvent the wheel, I felt the report needed another chance, at least to assess its relevance under a new pastor with fresh ideas and plans of her own and a new Council in a world ravaged by a one year plus pandemic. If anything, this might give a voice to the four members of the team no longer present. The document deserves another chance at a longer “life,” I rationalized. Apparently, others agreed with me and that process has begun.
“So how does this affect me directly?” you may ask.
One of the concerns addressed in the Transition Report and even more urgently as we move out of the pandemic and resume the “normal” work of our mission, concerns ways in which to improve the efficiency of communication among us. Perhaps this is partly a result of our Zoom conditioning. For example, we are aware that sometimes members needing to contact the church office find that the answering machine is full. Wonderful device the answering machine, but absolutely useless if packed with messages! As Council Secretary, I came to suspect that my reports were not accurate because congregational records were not up-to-date. Moreover, some important business has been delayed or pushed up against deadlines because mail has gone unattended or unnoticed for a period of time. Things just “fall through the cracks” because someone believes another person has it under control—read, “in their job description”--and will take care of it. Or maybe they feel they are overstepping their authority and hesitate in their “If you see something, say something” responsibility. You know how it goes. We have even heard that the congregation may have incurred a fine or two for business delayed past a deadline due to this.
So, currently there is activity in the PoP Council, Pastor Emily, and the Personnel Committee to review and rewrite job descriptions. Not only should this enhance internal communication but also the efficiency of the church operation in our mission. Also, it will, we hope, engage more members as we provide additional participation opportunities for some, reduce the workload of others, and alter the functions and authority slightly among the Council and the various committees and teams, a few of which have probably needed some serious redefining for years.
Accordingly, I invite you—we, the Council, invite all members--to participate in this bit of unfinished business by reviewing the document. We will make a few hard copies for checkout and provide a Proclaimer link to it online. It provides some historical context about the congregation, defines to the best of our ability our identity as a congregation in 2019, and looks forward toward the application of our talents and resources within the context of our mission. I suggest it as means to reset “a new starting point” in our journey with a new pastor with a plan to revitalize our body and grow our viability and sustainability, key issues brought up in the transitional interim surveys. As a full blue print, the report may be a little faded and dog-eared at the corners after a couple of years, but the content is still solid. Some comments may even have you cracking the smile of familiarity. We hope that by (re)acquainting yourself with the report, you will become motivated to participate in the work of the body as we move forward in the community.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.